It’s easy to think of lizards and picture the common small, brown or green reptile scurrying across the driveway; however, the lizard family is more than 3,000 species wide, with lizards ranging in size from the pint-sized gecko to the nearly 10-foot long Komodo dragon. With so many variations in species and size, it’s important to get to know a few branches of the family tree.
Iguanas are medium-sized lizards. They measure around 3 to 6 feet long and can weigh anywhere from 8 to 18 pounds. They have excellent eyesight, which they use for both hunting and visual communication. The common green iguana has an extensive range -- they’re found throughout Central and South America, from Sinaloa and Veracruz, Mexico, south to Paraguay and southeast Brazil, the Caribbean islands, the coastal eastern Pacific and even Florida and Hawaii. It is also the largest known lizard to reside in the United States and is often kept as a pet. These herbivores, though they occasionally eat insects, can live for up to 20 years in captivity and around eight in the wild.
Geckos are small to medium lizards found in warm regions south of the equator. Geckos come in a wide variety of colors and species; over 2,000 different species of geckos exist worldwide. The Flying gecko, Ptychozoon kuhli, measures 4 to 8 inches long and lives in the wet forests of southeast Asia. These lizards are masters of camouflage and while they don’t necessarily fly, they do glide from tree to tree using flaps of skin as parachutes. Unlike the mainly herbivorous iguana, geckos love to consume small invertebrates, otherwise known as insects.
Chameleons are unmistakable. With their paw-like hands and feet, quick color changing ability and rapidly quick moving eyes, chameleons are some of the most unique and popular lizards around. However, they are a bit more rare than geckos; around 150 species have been identified. The veiled chameleon, Chameleo calyptartus, inhabits the mountainous desert areas of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. These solitary, arboreal lizards subsist mainly on insects, though are known to munch leaves and plants as a source of water during the dry season.
Around 50 to 60 species of monitor lizards live in Africa, central and southern Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the most densely populated, Australia. Monitors have elongated necks and range in weight from under a pound to more than 300 pounds. The heaviest, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), is a dominant carnivore. A Komodo dragon’s saliva contains over 50 strains of bacteria; a single bite can kill a deer, pig, water buffalo or other dragon within 24 hours. This hearty lizard can even consume 80 percent of its body weight in a single meal.
- Sea World: Lizards
- A-Z Animals: Iguana
- Animal Diversity Web: Iguana Iguana
- A-Z Animals: Gecko
- ReptileChannel.com: The Flying Gecko
- Animal Diversity Web: Chamaeleonidae
- Animal Diversity Web: Chamaeleo Calyptratus
- Animal Diversity Web: Varanidae
- National Geographic: Komodo Dragon
- Ask Nature: Eyes Give 360 Degree Vision: Chameleon
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Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.